Japan has to be one of the most culturally stimulating countries on the planet, which captivates visitors with its magical landscapes and warm-hearted people. Japan is also a popular destination for expats to move to, considering its excellent economy, the fact that it is one of the safest countries in the world, and its overall diversity means you always have something to discover.
However, while Japan has plenty of excellent qualities, living in Japan is another story. With this comes language barriers, cultural contrasts, and the lack of work-life balance, some of the main cons of living in Japan. Of course, to make your decision, you must study both ends of the spectrum to see if Japan is proper for you.
Luckily, I can provide you with the essential pros and cons of living in Japan, which will illuminate the great things to look forward to and the factors you need to be prepared for.
So, let’s dive in and see if Japan is the right fit for a potential move.
A Quick Overview and Comparison
|Pros of Living in Japan
|Cons of Living in Japan
|The Language Barrier
|Lack of Work-Life Balance
|The Winter Weather
Its location means that it suffers from regular earthquakes and harsh weather from time to time since it is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, leaving it vulnerable. However, because of this location, the country boasts a fantastic landscape filled with beaches, mountains, and islands to enjoy.
Pros of Living in Japan
1. The Food
Japan is generally considered to have some of the world’s best food – which is very accurate. One of the best things about living in Japan is that you will have access to authentic sushi, ramen, tempura, and noodle dishes, which you cannot replicate anywhere else. The food in Japan is a big part of the culture, and the flavors set it apart from other countries, which is exciting.
Living in Japan means you can integrate into society and learn age-old recipes and how to make genuine Japanese food at home, which is something you cannot do on a short vacation. This aspect of the culture draws many people to the country, both as visitors and potential residents.
2. The People
Japanese people are among the friendliest on the planet, which can be seen from the day you arrive. People will go out of their way to help you, even when there may be a communication issue, and they will go as far as to walk you to the right train platform, bus stop or restaurant to ensure you get there without any problems. Japan is the world’s oldest country, and the number of people 65 and older accounts for 26.7% of the population.
The people of Japan highly value respect and kindness, but in an authentic way, which indeed cannot be said for some other countries across the globe. Living in Japan means you will always be surrounded by kind people who support and help you, and this is something we all look for when choosing a new place to move to.
3. The Culture
Moving to a new country is exciting, but moving to Japan is another exciting level. One of the pros of living in Japan is getting to experience the culture of the country, which is truly unique and incredibly captivating. On every corner, you will see remnants of the country’s past, aspects of the Japanese Shinto and Buddhist religions, and various other cultural attributes, no matter where you go.
From samurai warriors to geishas and ancient dynasties to modern-day anime culture, Japan has changed throughout the years. Yet, all aspects of the past and present attributes can be seen everywhere. Pair this with the martial arts scene, the onsen lifestyle and the cultural landscape, and you’ve got a country that will captivate you from the get-go.
4. A Diverse Landscape
One of the pros of living in Japan must be the diverse landscape, including natural hot springs (known as onsens), volcanoes, thriving bamboo forests, sandy beaches, and mountain ranges. The landscape of Japan is varied and impressive, and the best thing is it is ideal for everyone, whether you like to ski in the winter, swim in the sea in summer, relax in hot springs, or stroll through magical forests.
There are 118 volcanos in Japan, considering it is located on the Ring of Fire and over 27,000 natural onsens throughout the country. Japan’s onsen culture is thriving, and people love to enjoy the outdoors in any way they can. In addition, the country has over 14,000 islands which are exciting to explore, especially if you live there and have all the time in the world to discover the country.
5. A High Tech Country
Moving to Japan can shock the system; it is almost like stepping into the future. If you can picture robot waitstaff, electric toilets and advanced technology in all aspects of Japanese life, then this is the country for you. This aspect of Japan sets it apart from many countries in the West, which are slow to catch up, and visiting or living in Japan can almost seem like a sci-fi world.
The Japanese have embraced technology like no other country, which can be seen everywhere. They have so many vending machines that if they were to be placed together, they would stretch to Hawaii, not to mention they have the fastest train in the world – the Shinkansen.
As of 2023, Japan placed 10th among the safest countries in the world, surpassing Canada, Switzerland, Finland, and Germany. One of the things people will tell you about living in Japan is that you have very little chance of being robbed. Instead, it is more likely that your lost items will be taken back to you.
Living in a country that is as safe as Japan, with a nation as honest and kind as the Japanese, is what we all look for, and this is most definitely a pro of living in Japan. The crime rates in Japan have mostly been on a consistent decline since the 1990s, and one of the main reasons for its low crime rate is that the culture just does not allow for expressions of anger and outcry which often lead to crime.
7. Great Economy
Japan has one of the best economies in the world, considering they are the brains behind car brands such as Toyota, Hyundai and Nissan, Canon, Nintendo, and Sony. The Tokyo stock exchange is the third largest stock exchange in the world and the second largest in Asia, and when it comes to unemployment in Japan, it was just 2.8% in 2020.
Given the vast array of world-famous companies originating in Japan, there is an expansive world of job opportunities, especially in technology, but across other industries too. Japan is the second largest developed economy in the world and the third largest by nominal GDP, so moving here means you will have high prospects of finding a well-paid and stable job.
One of the best reasons to move to Japan is to be in a prime part of the world. Here you can explore the vast country of Japan as well as venture off to other exciting countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and the Sout East Asia Region. In addition, you are not far from Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific Islands, making your travel choices exciting and accessible.
For example, a flight from Tokyo to Singapore or Bangkok is around 7 hours, while a flight to L. A is just 10 hours long. For travel to the US East Coast and Europe, flights are much longer, but overall, there are plenty of exciting destinations close to just a short flight from Japan.
Cons of Living in Japan
9. The Language Barrier
English is not the predominant language in Japan; it is, of course, Japanese, and only 20%-30% of Japanese people can speak some level of English. Of this percentage, many people will most likely be based in the bigger cities of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, etc., but it will be hard to find anyone who speaks English in rural Japan.
Even if Japanese people know some English, they are timid about using it unless they feel it is at a reasonable level, so the language barrier may still be an issue in many cases. At the same time, locals will always help you in times of need, despite language barriers.
10. Lack of Work-Life Balance
Several traditions in Japan refer to work as the prime focus of life, and if you move there, you need to be prepared to work long hours and settle for little to no work-life balance. While this sounds very extreme, it is the reality of life in Japan, and it is not uncommon to be required to socialize with your boss or colleagues after a long shift, meaning you won’t get home late most nights.
When commuting to Japan, you will notice that everyone sleeps on the train. At first, this can seem strange, but when you are living in Japan, you come to realize that this is, in fact, your downtime and the only opportunity to re-energize yourself. Many Japanese people prioritize work over spending time with their partner and kids, and while this might not be the case for everyone, it needs to be recognized as a shocking part of the culture.
11. The Culture Shock
One of the pros of living in Japan is the culture, but one of the cons of living in Japan is also the culture. Japan has a culture far different from Western countries and even countries across Asia, so when living there, this can either be an exciting thing to discover or a culture shock that is hard to shift.
From the social codes and futuristic technology – which we will discuss further to the lack of work-life balance and the extreme hustle and bustle of the cities, Japan takes some time to get used to. It is common for expats to suffer from culture shock occasionally.
12. The Cost of Living
This is one of the major cons of living in Japan. The cost of living is USD 1200 for a single person without rent, which is 1.23 1.23 times the world average, while a family of four can expect to pay USD 3051 without rent per month. Japan ranked 44th out of 197 countries across the globe which makes it more expensive than Uruguay or South Korea but less expensive than Germany or France, for instance.
The average salary after taxes in Japan is $2447, which is enough to cover living expenses for two months, and as of 2023, the minimum wage was under $7 (961 yen), which was recently increased in April of this year.
13. Harsh Winters
While the rest of the year can be pretty pleasant, with sunny days, flowers blossoming, and changing colors of Autumn leaves, winter can be pretty harsh if you are not prepared for it. Japan is a prime skiing destination, which makes sense when you realize how much snow the country gets every winter.
You need to expect cold winters and lots of snowfall, which the country is very prepared for, but if winter is not your thing, then Japan might not be an ideal year-round destination. If you live in metropolitan areas, you may be able to avoid the snow, which mainly falls in the mountains and northern regions, but the cold temperatures will still need to be embraced.
14. Strict Social Codes
So, we touched on the culture shock that may set in when living in Japan, but the strict social code deserves its category. This element of Japanese culture is one of the main cons of living in Japan for a few reasons, and it’s essential to know this before you pack your bags to fly across the world.
There is a certain etiquette for doing almost everything in Japan, whether it is taking off your shoes before entering a house, removing your clothes before getting into an onsen or implementing ”bowing” into your daily routines. In addition, there are rules when eating or drinking, and women should never be seen walking and eating while respectful language is another thing you will need to learn amongst many other codes of etiquette.
15. Its Location on the Ring of Fire
Japan is located along the Ring of Fire, which is located around the rim of the Pacific Ocean and encompasses areas like Chile, the US West Coast, and many parts of Asia and Oceania. This area is prone to earthquakes, so you always hear about regular earthquakes in these regions, especially in Japan, which gets thousands yearly and must be carefully monitored.
It is not uncommon to feel minor earthquakes almost every day in Japan, which you get used to, but it is vital to be prepared for an earthquake of high magnitude. In addition, there are 11 active volcanoes in Japan, which can erupt at any time, and a total of 15 volcanic events occur each year in the country, not to mention the chances of tsunamis, all of which the JMA monitors.
16. A Futuristic Lifestyle
If you are the type to enjoy a simple life, perhaps you still maintain a vintage car from the old days; then Japan will be a confusing country to get used to. Almost everything in the country is high-tech, including the toilets and the service at restaurants, and there are vending machines everywhere that sell everything you can think of.
There are places to lock up your umbrellas like a bike, sushi trains that serve your food, pods as hotel rooms and robots everywhere. It is not uncommon to be greeted by a robot waiter or a robot hotel staff member upon arrival, which might seem bonkers to those used to the simple life. This might sound exciting, but if you are to live in Japan, could you get used to this futuristic lifestyle?
FAQs about Living In Japan
What is the worst thing about living in Japan?
The high housing prices and strict social codes might be the worst thing about living in Japan.
What are the best cities to live in?
Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto are excellent cities to live in.
What is Japan known for?
Its cuisine, its friendly people and its stunning landscapes.
How many expats live in Japan?
There are around 2 million ex-pats in Japan, with 75% coming from neighbouring Asian countries.